Thyatira: The Church of Willful Corruption
Intro: Have you ever had a bunch of apples, or tomatoes, or potatoes sitting around and then one day you grab one to find that It’s rotten? Now what do you do the moment you make this discovery? And what will happen if you don’t remove it?
Today we are going to visit a church that had a rotten apple in it, and that rotten apple was making the other apples in the barrel bad. Yet no one was doing anything about it. And not only that, they knew there was a bad apple and they let that apple lead the other apples! That’s why I call the church at Thyatira the church of willful corruption.
Let’s look at it together.
I. Christ’s credentials
“And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: The Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet are like burnished bronze, says this: Revelation 2:18 (NASB95)
Thyatira was perhaps the least of all the cities in terms of influence and beauty. She was situated in an open and vulnerable area, on a busy and well-traveled road that connected Pergamum to Sardis. She boasted of no position in the Roman Empire or architectural wonders.
But she was notable for her commerce and the guilds that went with it (guilds of ancient times were much like trade unions of today). There were workers of wool, leather, linen, and bronze; makers of garments and pottery; bakers and slave dealers; and those who produced a special dye. This is of special significance because Paul met a lady from Thyatira on his second missionary journey…
A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. And when she and her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us. Acts 16:14-15 (NASB95)
Christ describes Himself as One ready and capable of judgment.
Next, He gives His commendation…
II. Christ’s commendation
‘I know your deeds, and your love and faith and service and perseverance, and that your deeds of late are greater than at first.’ Revelation 2:19 (NASB95)
There is a contrast to Ephesus here: Ephesus did good deeds at first and then drifted into loveless orthodoxy. Thyatira was growing in love and doing greater deeds than those done at first.
In the longest of the rebukes, Christ delivers His condemnation…
III. Christ’s Condemnation
‘But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. ‘I gave her time to repent, and she does not want to repent of her immorality. Revelation 2:20-21 (NASB95)
Once again we have Jesus describing a NT situation with an OT character. Jezebel was the wife of Ahab, king of Israel. She was the daughter of the king of a pagan kingdom given over to the worship of Baal. She brought that into the religious life of Israel on a grand scale. As her hen-pecked and weak husband stood by, she led the people to worship Baal and participate in the sexual immorality that went with it. She was a wicked, conniving, evil, murderous woman, so much so that her name became synonymous with harlotry and idolatry. She was the ultimate “bad apple.” (Know anyone named Jezebel?)
The church at Thyatira had her own version of Jezebel (Some think that Jesus is not referring to a real person here. Though we know her name was not really Jezebel, most scholars agree that it’s an actual woman in the church). And this Jezebel was leading the Christians there to eat meat sacrificed to idols and commit sexually immoral acts just like her OT counterpart had the Israelites.
When we factor in what we know about the city it’s not that hard to figure out what was going on. Where would a Thyatiran Christian be exposed to the eating of meat sacrificed to idols and sexual immorality? The trade guilds. Each had its own god and its own way of weaving the veneration of that god into the lives of guild members. When they gathered as a group, they did so in the name of such and such a god or goddess. The meat had been offered up before that god or goddess as an offering. Wine freely flowed. Inhibitions slowly came down. The evening climaxed with the grossest of sexual sins – all done in the name of worship.
And “Jezebel” taught it was acceptable for a Christian to participate in this! How could she do this? She was influenced by the teachings of the Balaamites and the Nicolaitans, both who believed that what was done in the body had no bearing upon the spirit. A Christian could sin in the flesh and thrive in the spirit. Some even thought that since grace applied to sin glorified God believers should sin all the more to give God glory. When you study the NT as a whole, you realize these heresies were not isolated. The writings of Paul and John give evidence that the church of ancient times was plagued with these teachings.
Does this have any connection to today? More than you know!
- The teachings of Jezebel and the Balaamites and the Nicolaitans grew and evolved into what would a few decades later be known as Gnosticism. And Gnosticism is “in” these days! Have you heard of the Gospel of Judas? Dan Brown and the DaVinci Code? The Matrix? Even in the religious realm modern day Gnostics are churning out best-seller books on Mary Magdalene, the apostles, and you name it.
- Christians today are struggling with the tension of living in this world but not being of it, particularly in business and work arenas. They don’t have to worship idols, like the Thyatirans, but they do have to associate with the godless and immoral.
· Take the corporate exec, a Sunday School teacher in his church, who travels with his bosses to NY on a business trip. After the meetings end the bosses head to the local gentleman’s club (which is just a fancy way of saying strip-joint – and the men who go there are certainly not gentlemen!). You can fill in the blanks.
· Take the young girl, a relatively new Christian, who answers the phone at her work. It’s Christmas and the company hosts a big party. The booze flows, inhibitions come down, and you can fill in the blanks.
· Take the deacon who owns his own business. He has beautiful, young secretary. He knows it doesn’t look good but he takes her out to lunch often, just the two of them. They spend a lot of time together alone.
And what do all three say? Perhaps what Jezebel said, “That’s business.”
No, we don’t’ have anyone teaching this stuff in our churches, but just like Pergamum we are practically living like Balaamites, Nicolaitians, and the followers of Jezebel. By that I mean our behavior. We know what the Bible says but we play this game called situational righteousness.
Seventy percent of Americans think it important to obey God or the Bible when choosing right from wrong, but far fewer believe in moral absolutes. A Gallup poll, conducted for Americans United for Life, found nearly 70 percent agree with the statement: "There are few moral absolutes; what is right or wrong usually varies from situation to situation." Only 27 percent disagreed.
Christ follows with His correction and judgment (prepare yourselves)…
IV. Christ’s Correction & Judgment
‘Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds. ‘And I will kill her children with pestilence, and all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds. ‘But I say to you, the rest who are in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not known the deep things of Satan, as they call them—I place no other burden on you. ‘Nevertheless what you have, hold fast until I come. Revelation 2:22-25 (NASB95)
The contrast to Ephesus continues. Ephesus had stood firm against heresy and did not tolerate it for a moment. Thyatira caved in without even a fight, to the point of willfully and openly allowing a heretical teacher to serve and lead in the church. That’s why I call her the church of willful corruption.
There is also a comparison to Pergamum to be made: Pergamum simply had those in the church who held to error; Thyatira had digressed far beyond that, to the point of willfully condoning and even giving leadership opportunity to those who were teaching error. That is why Christ was incensed with righteous anger.
**A good illustration would be Al Jackson’s encounter with a woman PHD from Auburn University teaching a new age view of Christ.
I wish we could spend more time breaking down this section, but we can’t. Just know that Christ had given Jezebel time to repent but she refused, and now sickness and death threatens Jezebel and her “converts.” Those who had not succumbed were encouraged to “hold fast what they have” which means they were to hang on to truth and avoid the error of Jezebel at all costs!
Jesus’ attitude and tone reminds me of the “temple” incident. It’s a side of Christ, and a side of God, we deny or explain away. God takes His Word seriously, and Christ takes His church seriously. This church was willfully corrupt and to be corrupt is to be impure. Christ wants His church to be pure. And how do you make the impure pure? You purge the impurities. Christ spoke of this as well in a text most SBC Christians wish would go away (they stick their fingers in their ears!)…
“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. “But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. “Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. Matthew 18:15-18 (NASB95)
Stop and think about what happens when blatant, open, scandalous sin is left unchecked in the flock. It infects others! That’s why Christ gives the church authority to deal with sin in the flock. But Thyatira had not, so Christ stepped in Himself. Had the church dealt with the sin in her midst, Christ would not have had to administer such a severe judgment.
As always, Christ closes with words of comfort…
V. Christ’s comfort
‘He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations; and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, as the vessels of the potter are broken to pieces, as I also have received authority from My Father; and I will give him the morning star. ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ Revelation 2:26-29 (NASB95)
Thyatira had never known a political or military security of her own. Christ promises both to the Christians there using more OT allusions that have to do with our reigning with Christ in the Millennium.
Conclusion: We have looked at the church in Ephesus, a church that became loveless in her attempts to be orthodox. We have looked at Sardis, a church preparing to give the ultimate sacrifice. And we looked at Pergamum, the church indiscriminately tolerating those who held to heretical views. As we observe each church and Christ words to them, we should be looking for a word to us individually and corporately. I believe the letters to the seven churches describe a state any church or Christian experiences.
May we never be the church at Ephesus or Thyatira! May we never be Christians who lose their first love or hold to corrupt teachings. May we never give in to the world and say “That’s business.” May we instead say, “It’s all God’s business.”
Church, Christian, friend, heed the words of Christ…
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
 Reported in National & International Religion Report, 4/6/92. "To Verify," Leadership.